Source Houston VA Health Services Research and Development Center of Excellence, Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Houston, TX; Section of Gastroenterology, Department of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX; Section of Health Services Research, Department of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX.
BACKGROUND & AIMS: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) can result from hepatitis C (HCV)-related liver disease and is the fastest-growing cause of cancer-related death in the United States. Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) has been used as a prognostic factor for HCC, but the value of AFP as a prognostic factor for HCV-related HCC in the United States is unknown. We investigated whether higher levels of AFP at the time of diagnosis are associated with increased mortality of patients with HCV-related HCC.
METHODS: In a retrospective study, we collected data from a cohort of HCV-infected veterans, identifying incident HCC cases from October 1, 1998 to January 1, 2007 (n=1480 patients). Mean serum levels of AFP, obtained within 60 days before to 30 days after HCC diagnosis, were determined for 1064 patients and categorized as <10 ng/ml (18%), 10-<100 ng/ml (30%), 100-<1000 ng/ml (22%), or ≥1000 ng/ml (29%). Cox proportional hazard models were used to associate serum levels of AFP with mortality, adjusting for demographic features, clinical factors, and treatment.
RESULTS: The median survival times were significantly lower among patients with higher levels of AFP: 709 d for patients with <10 ng/ml, 422 d for 10-<100 ng/ml, 208 d for 100-<1000 ng/ml, and 68 d for ≥1000 ng/ml. In the multivariate analysis, increased levels of AFP (10-<100, 100-<1000, ≥1000) were significantly associated with increased mortality, compared to a serum level of AFP <10; hazard ratios were 1.50, 2.23, and 4.35, respectively.
CONCLUSIONS: Serum level of AFP at the time of diagnosis with HCV-related HCC is an independent predictor of mortality.